When the year opened, the first base and designated hitter spots didn’t seem like they were going to be an issue. Greg Bird was raking in spring training, Chris Carter was a backup who hit 41 home runs last season, and Matt Holliday would be the everyday designated hitter who could cover first base if all else fails.
Well, all else failed. Bird is still trying to make it back after a bone bruise derailed his season and Carter flailed for his entire Yankees tenure. Meanwhile, Holliday has been about replacement level this season. We know what happened with Bird and Carter—injury and no contact—but what about Holliday?
Up until June 21st, a significant date that I’ll get to, Holliday was one of the best hitters on the team. He was batting 262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 home runs, essentially a 30-home run pace nearly halfway through the season. Then, an illness hit. For some reason, and it was never really explained as to what happened, Holliday got sick. What just seemed like the flu or fatigue festered into something worse. Here’s what Joe Girardi said on June 27th:
"Really not much better," Girardi told reporters. "He says he feels bad. I said, 'What exactly does that mean? Are you achey? Your muscles are sore?'" He said, 'No, I feel like someone zapped me of all my energy. And that's kind of what I see from him. The blood work has come back fine. We're still trying to figure out what's going on."
At first reporters speculated that it was something he ate while in Oakland, but it certainly wasn’t that. When you take a look at his rolling wRC+ over the season, you can tell that whatever he had or has took a tool:
I pointed out June 21st as his last peak, right before he got sick. Then he subsequently tumbles to nearly unseen levels of performance.
I’m not going to speculate here as to whether he’s still carrying this illness or not. That would be irresponsible. Besides, he also dealt with some back troubles that sidelined him once again. He’s just now on rehab assignment. For all we know, it was a sickness that was piggy-backed by a back injury. The fact remains that he isn’t right.
The point of this is just to say that the signing, prima facie, was smart. He signed for just $13 million, which in this market is the valuation of something like a win and a half. Unsurprisingly, pre-season projections had him worth about a win.
Considering how much he hit early on, it was clear that he wouldn’t keep it up. Even if he was league average the rest of the year, though, it would be a victory. Brian Cashman, in all of his wisdom, can’t predict a sickness as fluky as that. Not even if he is relatively injury-prone and hasn’t played a full season since 2014. This wasn’t the reason they expected him to collapse if he did.
The great thing about a one-year deal is that it’s as low-risk as possible. There was no way of knowing the Yankees would need Holliday with Bird and Carter not working out for most of the year. There was also no way to predict that Holliday’s Achilles Heel would be some mystery illness. The Yankees did everything right in preparing for this season’s first base and designated hitter situation. It just didn’t work out. There’s still some time left in the year, so here’s to hoping we get another taste of April in September.